To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

This’ll be rambling and frankly semi-coherent, but it intrigued me. Woke up about half an hour ago from a dream in which my longtime ex’s parents (in the dream confused with another ex’s parents, but such is the nature of dreams) went through her books and literally tossed into a trash bag her copies of Henry Miller, Melville (? right?), Kerouac, Whitman, Cheever, Lowell, and Pynchon, many of which (in the dream, at least — though I am known to gift books, an arrogant if sincere trait of mine) I had given her. They were corrupting her mind, of course (Henry Miller has gone a long way in corrupting mine, so I won’t exactly question that one at least). In the dream I was my typical blustering and relatively disrespectful self, openly questioning why in the living hell they were doing that, what censorship of any kind can accomplish, and why it’s better to shield oneself from uncomfortable ideas than to actively engage them.

I have absolutely no idea what brought this dream on. I’ve written about the ex in question lately, so perhaps that explains her appearance, but the book censorship thing I can’t think of a trigger for. Of course, that’s what I love about dreams. To be completely honest, I’ve had more short stories develop out of things I dreamed about seemingly randomly than I’ve had develop out of purposefully thinking of ideas. As an aside, I think that’s true of writers far more talented than I — I always think of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”: “Eyes I dare not meet in dreams / In death’s dream kingdom” and frankly that scares the shit out of me. I borrowed the title for this post from “Hamlet” and “The Tempest”‘s summary by Prospero in IV:1 is stunningly good as well: “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.” Or perhaps as Descartes wrote, “I am accustomed to sleep and my dreams to imagine the same things lunatics imagine when they are awake.”
And one more quote I love, and moving toward relevance, from the Talmud: “A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.” This particular dream stuck out to me because removing access to books is one of the few unforgivable offenses I can think of on the behalf of a parent — and granted, I’m not yet a parent and may never be, so my perspective might be a bit skewed. Still, though, I can’t imagine limiting a child’s access to something they want to read (children! reading!) based on my objections to the content. It seems far more the responsible thing to do to explain to the child my grounds for objecting to the content and inviting her or him to think their own thoughts but take my perspective into consideration. As with everyone, I’ve been through some shit with my parents, and I’ve forgiven everything I’ve felt they did wrong (I do hope the same applies) with just one niggling exception — the one time they returned to the library a book I was reading because my mother opened it up (I was like 11) to a sex scene. Horror upon horrors, eh? (I won’t mention what the book in question was, because frankly, it’s embarrassing). The very concept of censoring or banning books is as offensive to me as illegal wiretapping.
One of the coolest and most memorable memorials I’ve ever been to is the Bebelplatz in Berlin, which is a testament to the Nazi book-burning shortly after the Ausnahmezustand went into effect (which took place in the Bebelplatz). It consists of a single glass pane underneath your feet — right on Unter den Linden and essentially on the campus of the Humboldt Universität. You look down and see rows and rows of empty bookshelves with an engraved line from Heine reading: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen” (There, where books are burned, will also ultimately see men burned”). How’s that for an impactful line? And yet I think Heine is right — the philosophical implications of purposefully restricting knowledge of whatever sort aside — the political act of banning or worse, burning, books is a frontal assault on the democracy of the mind, without which any other form of democracy is impossible. To ban any form of intellectual content, be it visual art, music, film, literature, etc., goes against the very grain of every fucking thing the Enlightenment accomplished for us, its relatively ungrateful heirs. I’ll even go far as to say that anyone who suggests a ban on any creative content is a cryptofascist. Freedom to create is on par with the freedom to love whom you love, to do what you love, to create yourself endlessly, and that freedom is what defines modernity itself.
This list of authors who have had books banned in the United States reads like a who’s who of the greatest writers of all time (or this list from the ALA), without whose work I know for sure I would never have developed into the person I am.
Anyway, to summarize sloppily, this particular dream really affected me and reminded me how important the freedom to think and dream whatever comes your way really is essential to growing up, and a freedom that should never be abrogated under any circumstances.
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~ by Benji on 14 August 2011.

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